AFTRA ratifies contract

Members approve new deal by 62% margin

After a bitter feud with sister union SAG over its primetime/TV contract, AFTRA's membership on Tuesday approved the union's new deal with the studios .

Slightly more than 62% of the voting members said yes to the pact.

"Today's vote reflects the ability of AFTRA members to recognize a solid contract when they see it," AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said late Tuesday. "We were faced with an unprecedented situation of another union mounting a well-funded and ferocious attack on our contract-ratification process. In the face of that kind of attack, I think the percentage that ratified this contract is really good, and I'm thrilled."

SAG, whose leadership had contended that a separate deal with AFTRA would dilute its clout at the bargaining table, asserted that the referendum was skewed by nonactor members of the union.

"Clearly, many Screen Actors Guild members responded to our education and outreach campaign and voted against the inadequate AFTRA agreement," SAG president Alan Rosenberg said. "We knew AFTRA would appeal to its many AFTRA-only members, who are news people, sportscasters and DJs, to pass the tentative agreement covering acting jobs. In its materials, AFTRA focused that appeal on the importance of actor members' increased contributions to help fund its broadcast members' pension and health benefits."

The AMPTP said the AFTRA ratification was "a vote of confidence by actors." The organization said it hopes that passage will demonstrate to SAG's Hollywood leadership that "there is support for the new economic relationships we have built with writers, directors and actors -- and not much support for a strike, whether de facto or real."

AFTRA declined to reveal the specific number of votes received in the ratification process for the primetime/TV deal, indicating that releasing the numbers could benefit the employers they negotiate with in future talks. It was the fifth national contract the union has negotiated in less than a year.

Reardon said she thought Rosenberg was "grossly misinformed" about AFTRA's broadcasting membership. About 4,200, or less than 6%, of AFTRA's 70,000 members are broadcasters, with 90% of AFTRA's membership characterized as entertainers, including actors, announcers, comedians and dancers, she said.

The AMPTP made what it termed its final offer to SAG on June 30 -- the day the contract expired -- and broke off talks, maintaining that it would not resume negotiations. The guild will meet with the AMPTP on Thursday to give its response to the offer, which mirrors AFTRA's contract, as well as those passed by the DGA and WGA membership.

The studios contend that the $250 million package presented to SAG goes beyond the pacts made with the DGA, WGA and AFTRA in that it is tailored to SAG's demands, with a new-media framework for feature films and significant gains for working actors.

AFTRA members approved terms that include a 10% increase in minimums over three years, employer contributions to health and retirement plans, continued consent for the use of actors clips outside promotional use and jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution on the Internet and in new media. The new contract also creates a new residual structure for paid Internet downloads that AFTRA says significantly increases the current rates and establishes a residual platform for ad-supported streaming and use of clips on the Web.

The contract covers a dozen shows in primetime and cable, including "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Flight of the Conchords" and "Rules of Engagement," and involves higher fees for downloads and residual payments for Internet streams and clips.

The ratification comes in the wake of an intense skirmish between SAG and AFTRA, in which the latter ended up negotiating on its own for the first time in 27 years. AFTRA and the studios' negotiating arm, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, brokered the deal May 28.

Reardon said AFTRA will now set its sights on seeking a summit of top actors, supporters and union leaders to discuss how to achieve unity and "ultimately, if feasible, merger of the performers' unions."

But the next step, according to Reardon, will be for the national board and locals to review "the conditions needed to restore the trust required to re-establish joint bargaining on our respective commercials contracts."

That contract, usually bargained jointly by SAG and AFTRA, covers TV, radio and new-media commercial performers and is set to expire Oct. 29.
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